In Executive Corner, we talk with senior officials in transportation and construction to get their insight on the past, present, and future of their industries.
Steve Wright is the president of Wright Brothers Construction Co., Inc., based in Charleston, Tenn. He served as 2012-2013 chairman of ARTBA, and he recently spoke with HCSS about his term and what he sees for the future of the industry.
What’s been the biggest thing you’ve learned about the industry in your term as chairman?
That the problems are the same all across the country. You know, by and large, no matter which state you go to, the challenges that are faced by the industry are pretty much universal.
What kind of challenges do you think the industry’s facing right now?
It’s regulatory. The regulatory challenges, funding challenges, planning and design challenges; where to put it, what to build, what’s appropriate, how to fund it. And then fighting the battle — battle’s probably not the right word — but trying to reach equilibrium with all the regulatory agents. There are so many that reach into your business every day that it takes an awful lot of money off the top just to do things that on the face you may not understand why it’s necessary.
Where do you think ARTBA has made the biggest inroads during your time as chair, and how did that happen?
Well, they work on all fronts. It’s a neverending battle to fight for funding. So, yearly appropriations, and the need for the transportation bill, is one of those things. If you’re not in front of the legislators, you can either be on the agenda or on the menu, and we prefer to be on the agenda.
We had this great YEDP program, the Young Executive Development Program, that had a record class this year. And we’ve filed (approximately) 20 regulatory filings with various agencies over the last 12 months that have hopefully been impactful, and been involved in a couple of court cases to fight the regulatory battles.
Could you tell us more about the YEDP?
The YEDP is a week-long, concentrated class that’s designed for the up-and-coming leaders in your company to expose them to the transportation system, how it’s funded, how the laws are made, and to see a little bit about the inner workings of the federal side of the program: how it’s managed, funded, and regulated.
What do you think was the biggest surprise of your time as chairman?
It’s surprising how many people you know. I wouldn’t have thought I knew anybody in Wisconsin, being from Tennessee, but you get there and you know people. Just what a small community the contracting community really is. The transportation industry is a small community: no matter where you go you know people and are kind of amazed by that.
Do you think your time as ARTBA chairman has had any additional impact on Tennessee or your business?
I would like to think it has, but I couldn’t show you how. I don’t know how it would have, no more than it impacted any other state. We worked hard for funding for everybody.
Your daughter’s also with your company. Do you see her being involved in a role like yours with ARTBA in the future?
That’s kind of up to her. If she attends and participates, I’m sure it’s possible.
What’s one thing you’d want to tell the next chairman?
Good luck, I guess. (Laughs.) I know Doug (Black) very well, he’s a great guy. He understands the programs and the needs and will do a great job. The staff is very, very good, and they take care of most everything. All you gotta do as chairman is to show up and smile and be the face.